Numbers 9:14. (The Message)
“Any foreigner living among you who wants to celebrate God’s Passover is welcome to do it, but he must follow all the rules and procedures. The same procedures go for both foreigner and native-born.”
What else have we been learning in this pandemic? Do you remember just a few years ago when we were terrified of someone coming in to our church during worship and doing harm? Across the churches in America we were having meetings on how to besafer, weren’t we? In one meeting with my church leadership in Jacksonville, we talked about an active shooter coming into the sanctuary. Of course, the workshop leader was so serious. I looked at my folks in the meeting: active duty and retired Marines. I just laughed and said, “If anyone comes into our sanctuary intent on doing harm with all the Marines in there, it will probably be the worst day of his life.”
So what is happening now? One pastor I talked to said that her aging congregation (and no Marines there) was not internet savvy and insisted on meeting in person. She had to do it outside. But what she noticed is that a man on his bicycle was riding by one Sunday and stopped during the service. He stayed there the whole time. He now rides by every Sunday and stops, listens, and then rides on. So I asked her what her main concern was as we continue. She said, “I’m concerned that when we move back inside, that man on his bicycle will not come by any more and come back inside with us.”
Amazingly, Jesus preached on the hillsides and beaches to the crowds. We are told that John Wesley went to the poor neighborhoods, to the miners, to the common folks and preached to them where they were. As I talked to this pastor, we had to admit that the pandemic has actually pushed us outside the church, either virtually or even physically. We’re reaching people we’ve never reached before. As much as our fear took us inside behind locked doors, our fear has now opened the church in some other ways.
Maybe that guy on his bicycle will eventually stay long enough to greet that pastor. It’s not like she doesn’t try to invite him a little closer. But her fear is that he will simply go away. How many more will be just like him when we return to what we think is safety? How can we remain in touch with those who might just be in the neighborhood. The pandemic has taught us that people are still interested in what the church has to say. I hope we have come to understand again that what we do in worship and service and learning is important enough to ask others to join us.
Down in the human heart, crushed by the Tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched with a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying; Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
O God, fear separates us from so much. Help us not to be afraid to be ready to invite the world into our faith. Amen.
Pastor Rick Moser